This is how i start my capsule. I first create a layered outfit that will be sufficient to keep me comfy in the coldest expected conditions on this trip. Often , this is after sundown when you are back at camp. Be sure to check your forecast highs and LOWS - check the details and written parts of the forcast. Layering is critical, as it is the most efficient way to stay comfortable in varying weather conditions. This video does a great job of explaining the basics of layering.
After you create your 'coldest' layered outfit, you will decide which items can be worn every day, and which you will want to switch out for different days or different occasions. How will you 'strip down' this outfit for the warmest expected weather? After you have your everyday, core pieces established, you will add pieces that will enable you to create enough outfits for every day of your trip, plus extra socks. That's my theory summed up. Following i spell it all out for you in gruesome detail!
Here's my explanation of the practical aspects of layering and how they relate to expressing your personal style. I focus mostly on the practical aspects, since your clothing really needs to work to keep you warm, dry and protected from sun and bugs. You can rely on accessories to convey your style without needing to sacrifice comfort or safety (which is stupid, not stylish). In this system you'll be working with three layers: inner or base, middle, and outer or hard shell layers.
Inner or Base Layer: closest to your body. The purpose is to protect your skin, wick sweat away from your body and dry quickly so you don't get chilled. For a colder trip, this can be long-sleeved, for beach trips it can be a tank, sports bra, or bikini top. For most camping/day hiking activities, thin cotton knit or a cotton blend is fine, although there are many high-performance super insulating and wicking fabrics out there. I recommend middle and outer layers that can be worn open down the front for comfort as well as style reasons. With your outer layers on, or their sleeves rolled up, your inner layer will show and can be a great place to reflect your personal style. The number of different colors and graphics available, even in technical pieces, is phenomenal. I've chosen six different base layer looks in my example outfits: grey/black graphic tee, pink floral tunic, black and white floral with buttons, ethnic embroidery, teal with black flocking in spiderweb design, and white lace tank/man's floral shirt. Don't forget the impact this layer can have on your look, especially when combined with your:
Middle Layer: this is the 'warm fuzzy' layer, the purpose of which is to trap warm air next to your body. It performs the major insulating work of your outfit. Interestingly enough, you can also layer the middle layer, for increased warmth and flexibility. I layered a corduroy shirt, cashmere cardigan, and cotton hoodie under my leather jacket on our last camping trip. It ended up being fairly bulky, but it was fine and warm for a morning around camp. Kristin Hostetter also 'layers her layer' in the above video.
Suitable fabrics for this layer include fleece, wool, cashmere (best warmth:weight:thickness ratio of any in my book), corduroy, chamois, flannel. I'd avoid 100% cotton for this layer, as it tends to be bulky without adding much warmth and takes a long time to dry. There are many amazing technical pieces available at specialty stores that provide a lot of insulation for the size and weight of the garment. But they can get awful pricey. If you are facing severe conditions, tend to be cold all the time, or just can't resist the latest and greatest, by all means get one of these wonders. But a lot of perfectly serviceable items can be found among your day to day casual wardrobe.
Again, for reasons of style and comfort i recommend items that open and fasten down the front. Collars are great for protecting your neck, and letting a little style peek out of your outer shell - possibly with a pin or brooch. Traditional corduroy or flannel shirts are nice and warm, button down the front, and have collars you can easily turn up. These days they come in a huge assortment of wonderful colors and patterns (floral, plaid, paisley, abstract) that are just begging to be mixed up with other patterns and colors in scarves, gloves, socks, hats, and your base layer. The 'look' of one of your mid layer pieces doesn't have to be all that's going on in your outfit - with all the layers you'll have going on, the sky is the limit for pattern and color mixing! So don't think 'ugh, what a boring grandpa plaid' and throw that shirt aside. How does it look with a floral tee, stripped socks, and a polka-dot scarf? Now, maybe that's a little more you.....
Mixing colors and patterns is great fun for those with an arty/bohemian flair. But if you tend towards the classic or dramatic, you may want to choose a monochromatic palette. In a causal camping setting varying shades of one color will tend to 'read' as monochromatic (for example black, charcoal grey, dark heather grey). You'll also come across as more relaxed and appropriate in a vacation setting than if you chose a very strict adherence to one shade. For a classic look focus on clean, simple grooming, simple jewelry and one classic scarf - silk polka dot, Hermes style, wooly tweed. For a dramatic approach to accenting a monochrome outfit you might try grouping of jewelry and scarves in one dramatic color - emerald green, deep purple, shocking pink - around your neck . But we'll get further into this in the accessories section.
Outer Layer or Hard Shell: Something that covers your arms and torso and will cut the wind. If you are expecting rain, use a garment that is rainproof as well. A strong wind, or even a little breeze, will be surprisingly effective at blowing away your warmth. For this last trip i took my leather jacket (wind and rain proof) as well as my khaki jean jacket (wind proof). We were expecting some cold weather at the beginning of our trip with a nice warming on the last day or two, so i appreciated the flexibility. The jean jacket doubled as a middle layering piece.
If worst comes to worst, cut neck and armholes in a garbage bag and slip it on over every other piece of clothing you can cram on. You may may not look as if you've stepped out of the pages of Vogue (The September Issue notwithstanding) but you'll warm up nicely.
to be continued......today!
Pic One: 'Casual Khaki Base' accessorized with black floral theme - outfit
Pic Two: while camping - Day Four